Whether it’s in the courtroom or on the ball diamond, Jack Fireman brings the same approach to winning — preparation and solid team building net you the best result.
The 76-year-old personal injury trial lawyer may be known as the driving force behind the championship-winning Toronto Gators (short for LitiGators!) fast pitch team, but ask him about one of his best memories of the sport and he will tell you about the fortitude and skill of one of his top players. “My 1995 team has been picked by people who know as the best fastball team ever,” says Fireman, a senior partner of Fireman Steinmetz Daya in Toronto. “When we went to the championships in Sioux City, Iowa, we lost our first game, and when you lose your first game at a world tournament, you are then forced to go through the losers bracket and play a lot of games in seven days. We couldn’t lose another game — we had to win 11 games in seven days.”
The team had what Fireman calls “the greatest pitcher ever” — Darren Zack from the Garden River First Nation in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., a member of the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame. “He was just incredible. He pitched 11 shutouts. It was still hard to win, but a lot easier when you have a pitcher like that,” he says.
Some have called Fireman the “George Steinbrenner of fast pitch.” He has sponsored the Toronto Gators and went on to win the International Softball Congress’ World Championships in 1993 and 1995. In August this year, he was inducted into the ISC Hall of Fame and received the Bob Welby Memorial recognition of service award in South Bend, Ind.
The Gators were the first Canadian team to win the ISC championship in 1993, downing the powerful Sioux City team. The Gators won their second championship in 1995 that featured the 11-game win streak.
Unfortunately, during this year’s ISC world championship tournament, the Gators lost to the Hill United Chiefs from Six Nations, Ont., in the final game. The Chiefs are now three-time world champions. “We were leading them 4-2 going into the second-last inning and we blew it. It happens,” laments Fireman.
After considerable time and effort spent building up the team, Fireman decided to take a break and left fast pitch until a few years ago. “I thought it would be nice to see a lake now and then and not just a dusty field, so I took a few years off,” he says.
In 2013, the World Masters Games were taking place in Torino, Italy, and a friend mentioned it to Fireman a few years before and planted the seed for his return. “They asked if I had considered taking a team there so I decided to take the players who had been on my two world championship teams in the ’90s and took them all to Torino. We won the World Masters championship,” he says.
That reignited his interest in the sport again as Fireman says he was “gearing down substantially” his practice in terms of his personal participation in legal matters. “I decided why not go back to the hobby I enjoyed so much. So I returned full force two years ago and again this year.”
His love of the game started when he was at Osgoode Hall Law School in the early 1960s and asked to play in a law lob-softball league. Then, later in his career, the sport came along again, this time fuelling his desire to really build a winning team. “A bunch of litigation firms put teams together in the early ’80s and we did very well, which got my competitive juices going. I decided to move up a couple of notches and eventually some people approached me about getting involved at the open level — the world championship competition,” he says.
In 1993, the Gators won everything that year and became the national champions, the first Canadian team to win the world championship in 47 years, and the Pan American champs as well. “Not a bad first year,” says Fireman. It was the same year the Toronto Blue Jays won their second World Series. Fast pitch is, however, different from baseball in that the pitchers pitch in a windmill fashion or underhand rather than overhand.
The Gators won at the 1993 Pan American Games in Mexico City. Softball Canada decided to send the Gators as a team to the Pan American Games trials that year because they were world champs. This year for the Pan Am Games, Canada sent an all-star team. “My pitcher and catcher on the Gators were the pitcher and catcher for Canada, who won not just the Pan Ams but the International Softball Federation World Championship, which is a quadrennial competition,” he says.
In the first year Fireman was involved with the Gators, the players had already been selected for the team. “They were a very mediocre team,” he says. “I decided if I was going to stay in this sport it was going to be to win it. I went out and started recruiting in 1993 and we won it.”
He believes the greatest players in fast pitch are from Canada and New Zealand, and in Canada, they primarily hail from Ontario. “You prefer to have Ontario players — most were from Ontario in the ’90s. It’s a lot less expensive — you don’t have to fly them here or put them up here, but when I got back into it I found those good players were gone,” he says.
He began building the team up again and this year nine players on the Gators were from New Zealand, four from Newfoundland, two from Nova Scotia, one from the United States, and two from Ontario. “We really had to shop around the world to put a team together,” he says.
Fireman says being part of the winning Gators has been good for his law firm because his profile “is reasonably good and it has brought in a fair bit of business, especially with people involved in the sport. It’s been a net break-even thing for me,” he says.
Fireman Steinmetz Daya is a firm of 11 lawyers, including Fireman’s son James. While Fireman loves being a litigator, he has been backing away from regular trial work over the years. He hesitates to say it, but he is semi-retired. “If someone needs me on a mediation or trial, I will do it, but I’m not up to my eyeballs in it anymore, which is good at this stage of life — it’s nice to do other things. I got to a point where I realized I don’t have to do seven or eight trials a year and blow my brains out. I loved it — I probably did more trials than anyone — but enough was enough. It takes a lot out of you to do a trial if you do it right. . . . I would promote the business and keep the lawyers busy and be around to help whenever they need me.”
He says being involved with the Gators over the years has given him the opportunity to see many places he probably wouldn’t have travelled to otherwise. “I don’t think I would have seen every province in Canada, which I have, except New Brunswick. We’ve played in 11 U.S. states as well as South and Central America, New Zealand, and Australia. It has been great that way, and I’m not a very good tourist, so for me tourism along with ball works.”
For Fireman, the induction into the ISC Hall of Fame is the “the cherry on top of the soda.”
“It was nice to be recognized,” he says. “I had my kids and some of my grandkids there. It was very gratifying.”
For now, he is giving consideration to whether he wants to stay involved in fastball, but he hasn’t ruled it out.